The other day my wife and I saw American Made, with Tom Cruise. This exciting and scenic but not scary movie showed the CIA drug and gun runners of the “Iran-Contra” affair right there on the big screen. Lots of nice aerial photos exciting without being creepy. And real cuts from old TV broadcasts. The Reagan Administration ran a HUGE drug and weapons trafficking operation at the same time Nancy Reagan was appearing on TV and telling the American people to “Just Say No” to drugs. The film portrayed many takeoffs and landings in Colombia and Nicaragua. It showed the cozy connections among the CIA, Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, Panama’s highly corrupt, U.S. backed President Noriega and the U.S. backed “Contras.” The Contras were trying to overthrow a popular socialist revolutionary government in Nicaragua. Reagan asked Congress to declare war in Nicaragua, Congress refused, and Reagan and his backers went ahead and started a war anyway. But they had to raise the money for it themselves since Congress wouldn’t appropriate it. They did so by bringing drugs into the U.S. from Latin America, making big bucks off them, and using the money to buy weapons to deliver to the Contras.
This might even be the first major studio movie in American history to actually show totally illegal activities by the President and the U.S. government “security” apparatus. The movie leaves out some key elements of the real life plotline. It doesn’t show the sale of weapons to Iran, an avowed enemy of the U,S., in exchange for hostages. It leaves out the secret deals among the U.S., Israel, and Iran for big weapons in exchange for other hostages. And there is no mention of the earlier deal to supply yet more weapons to Iran in exchange for NOT releasing the hostages from a clandestine helicopter operation in Iran where the copter crashed until after the election between Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Nor does it mention that many of the drugs brought into the U,S. were sold into inner city ghetto areas to keep young male residents stoned out and docile. But even without those details, I found the big-screen showing of this totally illegal operation by the National Security Agency remarkable. In my view, it’s part of how history should be taught. We should show the less admirable sides of what our government has done instead of covering them up, in engaging ways that people will want to watch. (I was, however, surprised by how small the theater audience was. I thought it was a very good film of real historical importance.)